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Studios and Theaters Get the Blame

The Video on Demand battle between studios and theater owners is opening up another posturing front. Both theaters and studios are complaining about how much money they aren’t making. But they aren’t making money because they’re both trying to squeeze each other and moviegoers too aggressively.

Skyrocketing budgets and ad costs, and theater consolidation and investment in renovations have hiked up costs on both sides. And those costs have been triply passed on to customers. Movie prices have gotten outrageous and that translates into fewer people showing up. Studios investment more in fewer movies and count on huge box office takes to pay off their investment. It’s a bad business model that’s called putting your cinematic eggs in one weekend. And when one movie with 150 to 200 million in costs crashes and burns, there’s not much chance of recovery.

Studios have stripped away originality and in cooperation with theater owners are turning theaters into amusement parks, cranking out 3D rides based on some randomly familiar IP. Alvin and the Chipmunks. Airbender. Monopoly. GI Joe. These aren’t movies anymore. They’re overpriced rides. And when a ride fails, it takes everything with it.

Studios and theaters need to revisit their business model. Spending more on less and expecting everyone to pay more doesn’t work. Making more movies for less and cutting theater prices would give better results in a bad economy. The premium model on a national level is a no go. And studios and theaters are destroying the movie to make more money.

Is ‘R’ the New ‘NC-17’

A lot of factors are getting the blame for Conan’s failure, but an obvious point is its R rating. The day of the R rated action movie when out with Schwarzenegger, Stallone and Willis. They still get made, some even do acceptable numbers, but they usually don’t have 90 million dollar budgets.

The R Rated movie is still around, but as comedies, where the grossout is the new joke. Or the old joke, ever since the Farrelly Brothers helped turn comedies into a race to put the most disgusting bodily function possible on screen. And that’s where the R rated box office still hangs out in movies like Hangover, Bridesmaids and Bad Teacher. And the Apatow class stoner comedy.

In the distance is teenage horror, which is not exactly on fire lately, movies like Fright Night, Final Destination 5 and Scream 4. The rest don’t even show up. The occasional artsy pic can still be R rated, but they’re not much of a risk, and The King’s Speech, which was a big box office hit still got recut later to bring in more audiences.

Making Conan an R-Rated movie wasn’t much of a risk back in 1982. Making the sequel to it anything less than an R was the bad idea. But an R-rated 90 million dollar action movie is a major risk today. 300 pulled it off and Conan was hoping for some of that same box office.

R Rated movies still get made, but they’re usually a lower risk and a smaller investment. If they go big, they go big. If they don’t, money isn’t lost.

Why the Comic Book Movies Are Failing

DC and Marvel have thrown three comic book superheroes at the big screen and they all got shot down. Not badly shot down, but performed weakly. None of them have turned a profit on the domestic box office. Not Thor, X-Men First Class or Green Lantern. And that should be an alarm bell ringing in the offices of studio executives who decided that they could turn every property they had into another Batman and cash in.

The problem? No name brand superheroes. Green Lantern has a brand, but it’s not 200 million dollars worth. Thor is well known, but more for the mythology, than for the Marvel property. X-Men First Class is a prequel to a series that had too many movies around it already. If you’re going to bank on a 300 million dollar domestic box office, then your superhero needs some identity.

Iron Man made that happen, and it was a harder trick than Marvel realized, taking a character that maybe 10 million people were familiar with and breaking him out. And that was done by making him larger than life. Green Lantern and X-Men First Class have no one larger than life. Thor sorta does. And the sorta is why Thor performed a little better than the rest as audiences knew they were going to see a big muscular guy hit things with a hammer. Even if they had never read the comic book.

Summer of Comic Book Movies Not Going So Well

With Thor, X-Men First Class and Green Lantern, this was the summer of comic book movies. Too bad they weren’t very good and didn’t do all that well.

Domestically they all look to tread water and not much else. And that includes Thor which fell out of the Top 10 with 25 million over its bare budget, which doesn’t cover promotion. X-Men First Class is falling off drastically and may not make back its budget domestically. Green Lantern debuted at a quarter of its budget. And unless audience prove to be really in love with this and keep coming back, it probably won’t either.

The problem isn’t just limited to comic book movies. Pirates 4 is in the same boat. Kung Fu Panda 2 is struggling. Fast Five is the only action movie that has really cashed in. It’s the closest thing to a winner so far.

Don’t count on Marvel and DC changing their strategy much. None of these movies are losing money internationally. Thor has made most of its money internationally. It isn’t that huge of a payday, but enough that a sequel is likely. X-Men First Class is also doing better abroad. It’s too early to tell about Green Lantern, but if its international box office doesn’t pan out, then no sequel.

End of the Road for Pirates?

Pirates of the Caribbean On Stranger Tides had the lowest opening of the franchise to date. It still hasn’t made back its budget and if it falls sharply then it may not make back its budget domestically at all. Does that mean this is the end for Depp’s wonky performance of a drunken pirate? Don’t count on it.

One reason why American movies are so terrible lately is that they’re being made for the foreign box office. Pirates of the Caribbean 4 underperformed in the states signaling that Americans may be tired of this stuff already, but the international appetite for Depp’s pirate related antics is still strong.

Internationally Pirates of the Caribbean 4 is the biggest movie of 2011. It hasn’t passed the 200 million mark domestically, but it’s up to 700 million worldwide. Which means we’re going to get lots and lots more Pirates sequels. Not because we want them, but because they do.

Pirates 4 scored 90 million in its opening weekend in America. Which is okay. Sorta. Though not when your movie costs 250 mil. But in China, Pirates 4 opened with 21 million dollars. In Mexico it opened with 10 million dollars. Mexico. So get ready for lots and lots more Depp.

So Scream 4 Bombed

Sure bombing is relative. Scream 4 will probably make money, though not domestically. And how much of that money will go back to the production company’s budget and promotional expenses? The margins aren’t great. Scream 5 is supposed to move forward, along with a raft of other Dimension sequels like Halloween 3 and Spy Kids 4. The Weinsteins needed to go beyond being the Oscar bait studio and make movies that people actually go to see outside of Oscar season. But so far except for Tarantino’s movies no luck.

So what went wrong? All the obvious stuff. Horror movies play to younger audiences and most of the teenagers who were the target audience were in their diapers when Scream 3 came out. Scream 3 was weak, but it still pulled in three times what Scream 4 did. And Scream 4 also traded in Kevin Williamson for Ehren Kruger, not a smart move. Kruger does what the Weinsteins tell him. Which is not such a good idea. Clever writing was what kept Scream afloat, and that means the writer is the one thing that can’t be replaced.

The Weinsteins looked like they had a comeback with King’s Speech, but the high profile failures of Miral and now Scream 4 suggest otherwise. Without being able to do anything besides Oscar bait, TWC starts looking like Merchant Ivory with a local accent.

Girls Win

Hop remained the top grossing movie for the 2nd week in a row in the April 8th to 10th weekend. Call it kid power. Hop is mediocre but a throwback to Disney movies. At least the kind of movies Disney used to make.

Arthur, Russell Brand’s big entry, was supposed to be the winner. Was it? Not even close. Sure Arthur opened in 2nd place, which isn’t bad. But its per theater average was worse than everything except Your Highness. If we went by per theater averages, Arthur actually opened in 6th place. WB will claim its win, but theater owners will remember.

Speaking of Your Highness, an aggressive marketing campaign couldn’t save it either. It opened in 6th place. Nudity, Natalie Portman and James Franco didn’t help it any. Even Insidious beat it on a 2nd weekend. And despite its general crappiness, Insidious even beat Artur in per theater averages.

The true number 2 winner was Soul Surfer, the story about the one legged or one armed surfer girl. Followed by Hanna. Both are girl centered movies which performed above expectations and didn’t have a fraction of the press put out for Arthur or Your Highness. Being girl centered they couldn’t get into enough theaters either. But they drew more audiences per theater anyway.

Another Underwhelming March

Even the success stories like Rango just teeter over the edge of failure. Rango has passed 100 million but is falling hard and its budget was 135 million. Sure the world take will more than make up for it, but it’s hard to call it a success story. Then take Just Go With It, the other winner which managed to pass 100 million, even though it’s out of the top 10 and its budget is 80 million. Big hit? Not exactly. And spells trouble for Adam Sandler, who hasn’t been setting the screen on fire lately.

And the rest? Battle of LA misfired in a big way. Its budget was low enough that it won’t lose money. But even its international gross is underwhelming. Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch couldn’t even take first place on its opening weekend. Its budget isn’t too high, and the internationals aren’t in. So it’s too early to call it. The heavily hyped Lincoln Lawyer fizzled, down in 4th already. Its budget was small but it will have to work to even reach it.

Red Riding Hood was supposed to be solid counterprogramming to Battle of LA, but it fizzled too along with Battle of LA. The Adjustment Bureau also fizzled. Mars Needs Moms had a high enough budget that it’s a bomb, instead of a disappointment.

Paul, Beastly, Hall Pass, movies targeting completely different demographics, all failures. It’s easy to blame the movies and there aren’t too many winners here. But the bigger story is that audiences of all stripes just stayed home. Movies aimed at kids, teens and adults, at men and women, younger and older audiences all performed below expectations and didn’t turn much of a profit.

How’s that 3D Doing Now?

Answer not that good. The top movie at the box office is a piece of 2D crap named Little Fockers. Next up is a decent 2D movie, True Grit. None of them were shot in 3D. None of them were converted to 3D. And they’re all doing well. But Tron Legacy which is 3D isn’t doing well at all. Yogi Bear in 3D isn’t performing too well either. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader also in 3D? Also doing poorly.

Is there any point in even mentioning Gulliver’s Travels, also in 3D? Yes it’s doing really badly too. It’s almost like releasing a 3D movie doesn’t guarantee you a high box office, or anything. It’s like it doesn’t even matter at all. Like most people won’t really go see a movie just because it’s in 3D. And maybe they actually won’t go to see it because of the high ticket prices. Like.

While Sony is trying to push 3D TV’s, the actual interest in 3D is pretty shaky. Some 3D movies have done well, most haven’t. Tron Legacy was supposed to be the new Avatar, but a technology only gets to be new once. And 3D isn’t all that new anyway. Most of these movies would have made less money without 3D, but they would have also cost less without 3D. And figuring out the win and loss scenarios in that takes mad accounting skills.

Bad Season for Kid’s Fare?

Gulliver’s Travels has fallen out of the top 10 almost out of the gate with a take of under 30 million dollars. It’s a disaster, but not the only kids movie disaster now. The latest Narnia movie didn’t do as badly, but Voyage of the Dawn Treader is still falling out of the top 10, having earned way less than 100 million domestic. The foreign box office take more than makes up for it, but there’s a pattern here. Yogi Bear is a slightly lesser disaster, but it’s also sinking fast and way under a 100 million dollars. Even Tangled, which was supposed to be a success story, is well at the bottom with way under 200 million dollars. It’s not a failure, but it’s a long way from a major hit.

These are all kids movies, and Tangled was the only one to come out strong, but then tumbled. The holiday season is usually a good time to release kid movies, but not this season. Gulliver’s Travels, Yogi Bear and Voyage of the Dawn Treader and Tangled aren’t high quality, but most movies that do well aren’t high quality either. And as annoying as some of these might be, they’re passable kids entertainment.

So what is doing well? Oscar contenders mainly and Little Fockers, the family comedy that’s become a consensus choice for people who want somewhere to go out without thinking about it.

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